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25.15.7 Converting Between Plain Text and Tables

The command M-x table-capture captures plain text in a region and turns it into a table. Unlike M-x table-recognize (see Table Recognition), the original text does not need to have a table appearance; it only needs to have a logical table-like structure.

For example, suppose we have the following numbers, which are divided into three lines and separated horizontally by commas:

     1, 2, 3, 4
     5, 6, 7, 8
     , 9, 10

Invoking M-x table-capture on that text produces this table:

     +-----+-----+-----+-----+
     |1    |2    |3    |4    |
     +-----+-----+-----+-----+
     |5    |6    |7    |8    |
     +-----+-----+-----+-----+
     |     |9    |10   |     |
     +-----+-----+-----+-----+

M-x table-release does the opposite: it converts a table back to plain text, removing its cell borders.

One application of this pair of commands is to edit a text in layout. Look at the following three paragraphs (the latter two are indented with header lines):

     table-capture is a powerful command.
     Here are some things it can do:
     
     Parse Cell Items   Using row and column delimiter regexps,
                        it parses the specified text area and
                        extracts cell items into a table.

Applying table-capture to a region containing the above text, with empty strings for the column and row delimiter regexps, creates a table with a single cell like the following one.

     +----------------------------------------------------------+
     |table-capture is a powerful command.                      |
     |Here are some things it can do:                           |
     |                                                          |
     |Parse Cell Items   Using row and column delimiter regexps,|
     |                   it parses the specified text area and  |
     |                   extracts cell items into a table.      |
     +----------------------------------------------------------+

We can then use the cell splitting commands (see Cell Commands) to subdivide the table so that each paragraph occupies a cell:

     +----------------------------------------------------------+
     |table-capture is a powerful command.                      |
     |Here are some things it can do:                           |
     +-----------------+----------------------------------------+
     |Parse Cell Items | Using row and column delimiter regexps,|
     |                 | it parses the specified text area and  |
     |                 | extracts cell items into a table.      |
     +-----------------+----------------------------------------+

Each cell can now be edited independently without affecting the layout of other cells. When finished, we can invoke M-x table-release to convert the table back to plain text.